Thursday, 16 June 2016

Blend or block ? How do you plant ?

It has always been a curiosity of mine as to why most garden designers or landscape architects,  when sorting out the planting schemes of their projects, nearly always plant in  large or even huge blocks of the same closely planted item ? Whilst it might be claimed to have benefits when it comes to maintenance issues,  as in, the plants grow into a tight knit block and so prevent weed growth, this argument is only valid if the plant tends to spread into each other fairly quickly. If it is narrow near the ground and gradually splays out as the height increases then the soil will always be ready for weeds.

  I recall walking, some years ago, from Schiphol Airport terminal to the car park and  admiring a huge block of ferns in one of the spaces about the buildings. The verdant green of the foliage was delightful in an otherwise rather bleak space. What was disappointing was the density of the planting - whilst the leafshape was obvious, the plant form was lost: the lovely curve of the fronds invisible in the squash of a mass of leaves. I was left wondering -how would I have designed that to show the ferns off to their best? I decided I would have spaced them much further apart so that in their maturity one could see the individual plants but underplanted with a carpet of spreading flowering perennial  like Geranium Rowallene, a marvellous long flowering variety that would have, with its lavender toned flowers, enhanced the verdancy of the fern's foliage.

the carpet of blue Geraniums could look terrific partnered with some big glaucous blue leaves of Hosta siebildiana elegans- see previous pic. 

As I see it there is a lot to be said for dispensing with this style of  block planting and adopting a 'blended' style.   A blending method could  be a good way of displaying Hosta's better than the current big group style. Currently we see them planted in large spreads, the gloriously coloured leaves being the principal element of note. The shape or form of the plant is invariably lost in amongst the jumble of bold leaves. Might it not look considerably more striking to space the Hostas very wide apart, say at 1.5 m spacing and then underplant amongst them with something like Geranium perhaps 'Mavis Simpson'  or  Erigeron or perhaps Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or even, if  we want to be really extravagant, the creeping Clematis ' Bijou'.   Last year while visiting Cranborne Manor I was amused and fascinated to see  how good some creeping Campanula [C. portenschlagiana] looked beside a Hosta. The intense blue flowers enhanced the glaucous sheen on the Hosta leaves and led me to wonder how lovely they would look planted with the Campanula as a carpet of blue with Hosta's dotted amongst it. Could look absolutely stunning !
This Hosta would look even more stunning with lots more Campanula all around it.

Roses are another plant that begs for a partner rather than the traditional way of planting- loads all together in big beds often devoid of anything else.  It caught my attention how successfully this had been achieved, also at Cranborne House, with a vast carpet of Dianthus amongst which were planted shrub roses. Ironically the Dianthus show dominated at the expense of the roses. As an alternative one could possibly consider underplanting roses with something like Agapanthus in huge sweeps, the benefit being the Agapanthus flowering just as the shrub roses decline. What a picture that would be.!
A large group of Agapanthus looking delightful, a good underplanting for groups of Roses, and great follow-on show after the rose blossoms are declining. 

More thoughts and ideas on blending to follow soon !

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